Friday, March 13, 2009

Pass the Word, Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Welcomes Chelsea Gilmore, Assistant Editor at Avalon Books!


Happy Friday Readers! Today we have special guest Chelsea Gilmore, an Assistant Editor at Avalon Books in New York,acquiring romances, mysteries, and westerns. Chelsea is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a dual degree in Communications and Journalism. After spending three years working on higher education textbooks at Oxford University Press, Chelsea's love of all things fiction compelled her to make the move to Avalon. In addition to being a self-proclaimed "book worm," Chelsea also enjoys cooking and taking in as much of the busy city as possible. She's especially fond of the music scene in New York, and tries to see as many of her favorite performers as she can.


Welcome Chelsea! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today.

Let me start with a question that both readers and writers can relate to easily. What’s playing on your IPod?


Well, it changes pretty frequently—apparently I have music ADD! Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Adele (a young British female vocalist) and the soundtrack to the film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” I also have a lot of love for classic rock and 80s music, and have even been known to become mildly obsessed with certain catchy Top 40 songs.

Chelsea, could you give us a description of what an “average” day/week at work looks like for you?

An average week for me usually involves a decent amount of reading. On average, I try to get through at least half of a manuscript per day (depending on the day, I may read more or less). I also do all of the Production work for Avalon, which means I am responsible for handling all communication with our compositor/typesetter, cover artists, etc. So an average week in terms of Production work may include sending manuscripts to be typeset, going over proofreads, preparing and checking front matter, assigning covers to artists, and generally making sure we’re sticking to our schedule.

One task that I do on a daily basis is read through all of our mailed-in submissions. I decide whether or not to request a full manuscript (based on the submitted partial) and then my fabulous interns send out request or rejection letters. I also receive a fair number of emailed submissions, which I try to go through as they arrive.

We have weekly editorial meetings at Avalon, where we discuss anything we’ve read and go over the Production schedule. As with any job, there’s also some “busy work” like making sure invoices have been paid, logging reviews, answering questions from authors, etc.

Tell us what your main acquisition focus is?

We are actively acquiring romances (both historical and contemporary), mysteries, and westerns. Because we publish more romances than anything else, those are probably the most sought-after manuscripts. We publish four contemporary and two historical romances per cycle (we do 6 cycles a year, with ten books per cycle—4 contemporary romances, 2 historical romances, 2 mysteries, and 2 westerns) so I think it’s probably safe to say that romance submissions are the most-abundant. Although recently we’ve had quite an onslaught of mystery and western submissions, so I guess these things tend to ebb and flow.

How many authors do you currently work with at this time?

It’s kind of difficult to say, as I try to lend my assistance to as many authors as I can, but right now I’d say I’ve got about twenty authors I’m currently working with.

Avalon describes themselves as “family-friendly.” How are they different from other publishers and what implications does this have for a writer wanting to submit to you?

I think we’re different from other publishers in a lot of ways. The biggest difference being that we’re not only family-friendly, but family-owned and operated. Thomas Bouregy started this company back in 1950. His daughter, Ellen Mickelsen, is our Publisher and fearless leader today. When the company started almost 60 years ago, the market was obviously a bit different than it is today. The goal, however, hasn’t changed much. It’s always been Avalon’s aim to publish quality books that can be enjoyed by a wide audience, and keeping our books family-friendly is a means to that end. To us, “family-friendly” means books that don’t contain harsh language, graphic violence, or sex. Our books are very much character-driven, meaning that we rely on our authors to create the tension, suspense, and excitement rather than including the more explicitly salacious aspects such as sex and violence. Essentially what this means, in my opinion, is that our writers have to try a little bit harder to create an atmosphere that lends itself to a story that doesn’t need to rely on those conventions. In other words, the author is responsible for writing in such a manner that the reader doesn’t feel as though they’re missing out on something like a sex scene. I think that our family-friendly policy is often misread as meaning inspirational or Christian, which is not what we do.

I think the biggest implication for a writer is really making an effort to have a plot and characters that can engage the reader without being contrived or formulaic. Obviously there’s a certain sense of the predictable in the genres we publish, but that doesn’t mean we should be able to foresee the entire outcome of the story. We’re looking for writers who can go above and beyond the ‘norm’ and give us a story that is compelling without being overly scandalous.

Is there any one thing in a query letter or a manuscript that will cause you to automatically put it in your rejection pile?

Absolutely. The biggest red flags for me are words like “non-fiction,” “paranormal,” “crime thriller,” or really any other description that doesn’t fit with the genres we publish. Also, when reading a query letter, I generally reject anything that indicates an extra-marital affair, rape, extreme violence, foul language, etc. For the most part, however, I do try to give everyone a fair shot by reading as much of the partial as possible and try to determine if the ‘red flags’ are something that we can work around or not.

What kinds of things in queries or manuscripts cause you to keep reading or want more?

Anything that doesn’t have a ton of grammatical errors! I’m kidding. This is actually trickier, I think. I’m a bit of a sucker for stories that don’t take place in a traditional setting, and I have a tendency to like somewhat eccentric/atypical characters. I’m also really in to humor—if you can make me laugh, you’re doing a great job.

How many queries or manuscripts do you receive on a weekly basis?

I’d say we probably receive about 50 queries/partials per week, and of those 50 we might request 10.

What’s your average response time?

We respond to partials and queries immediately upon receiving them. If we’ve requested a full manuscript, the writer can expect to hear from us in about 6 to 8 months. Sometimes it’ll take a bit longer if we’ve had an especially high number of submissions in a particular genre, but 6 to 8 months is pretty standard for us.

Is there a particular story premise that you see so much that it falls in the “If I never see this idea again, it will still be too soon” category?

There’s not a premise that I’m burnt out on yet, but there is a tendency for the bulk of the romances to end in an engagement or marriage. Just because we can’t show our characters in the bedroom, doesn’t mean they have to get married (especially if the story only takes place over a couple of weeks) to add spice! Also, I would LOVE for a mystery writer to come up with a better way of having the antagonist squeal at the end. It seems like all of our bad guys sing like canaries with very little prodding. Show me an antagonist that has to be practically forced to tell you why they’ve done what they’ve done, and I’ll show you a very happy Chelsea!

What do you think is (are) the biggest mistake(s) you see new writers make in their submissions?

I’d say the number one mistake that new writers make is not doing their research before submitting materials. It’s incredibly important to make sure you’re submitting your work to an appropriate publisher. While there’s certainly no guarantee that a publisher who works with paranormal romances would want your time-traveling werewolf romance, you’re certainly much better off submitting such a manuscript to them than to us, for example.

I’d also say that whenever possible, you should have someone who’s slightly more impartial than say, your best friend, read your manuscript first. Confidence is a crucial part of selling yourself and your manuscript, but it’s also important to be able to roll with rejections. This would include not calling up publishers who’ve rejected you to tell them what a huge mistake they’ve made because your book is going to be bigger than Harry Potter. :o)

Tell us about your “Dream Author.”

I honestly feel like so many of my authors are dream authors! I’ve certainly never worked with a more easy-going bunch. For me, a dream author is someone who is willing to put in 100% effort not just to write the book initially, but throughout the entire process. Someone who can take constructive criticism, is open to change, has realistic expectations for their book, is willing to self-promote, and who is at least as excited about their book as I am. Of course, being able to stick to a schedule is important too.


What would you really like to see in the next manuscript you read?

Oh gosh, this is a tough one! As I mentioned earlier, I’m a really big fan of non-traditional settings, so if you’ve been to, say, Myanmar, and feel like you know enough about the area and culture, have your story take place there. I also really like somewhat atypical characters. I suppose you could say I like characters with character, if that makes sense! Characters like people you’d want to meet in real life; someone with an unusual hobby, goofy habits, endearing/somewhat bizarre friends, neighbors and family, that kind of thing. The interest doesn’t have to be solely derived from their profession and the romance, for example. Don’t be afraid to throw something else into the mix. Also, not everyone has to be drop-dead gorgeous and perfect—I embrace flaws!

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you in your editor position? What’s the strangest thing that an unpublished author ever did to get your attention?

I find that as soon as I tell people I’m a book editor, everyone has a story they want to pitch me. It seems like everyone has some crazy story that either happened to them or someone they know that is just waiting to be put in a book. At a friend’s recent birthday dinner, I was practically accosted by a woman who had “the best idea for a story” which was based on her relationship with a married man. She then proceeded to go into rather graphic detail about this relationship and all of its dysfunctional glory. I was mortified and yet awkwardly compelled to listen and offer advice. My face gets red just thinking about it!

We’ve had authors send flowers with their submissions, put confetti in envelopes, offer to come to the office to tell you why their book should be published, etc. Most often though, we hear back from folks we’ve rejected who don’t feel the rejection was deserved. These phone calls can range from being berated for passing on ‘the next big thing’ to nearly tear-induced pleas for a second chance. Despite what many people may think, it’s very difficult to reject people, and it’s even worse to have to do it twice.

Chelsea, we keep hearing a lot of doom and gloom in the publishing news. Tell us how the economy has impacted your acquisitions and advances? (or any area it has or has not impacted)

We have actually been really fortunate despite the economic downturn. Because we market mostly to libraries, we’re (almost) immune to the bad climate. We’ve noticed an increase in borrowing from libraries, which is great news for us and for our authors. The downside being that many libraries are now seeing a cut in their budgets.

We are still working on our 6 cycle schedule, publishing 60 books a year. This formula is highly unlikely to change, regardless of the economy. Our advances have also stayed the same. Because we’re a very small company, our advances are not large. We’re devoted to publishing books that we believe in, and hope that our authors are just as interested in getting their book published as making tons of money.

Can you tell us what Avalon typically does to promote an author’s latest release and what you expect your authors to do?

As I mentioned above, we are a small company and therefore are simply unable to do huge promotional pushes for all of our authors. That said, we do our very best in order to garner as much attention as possible. This generally means submitting books for review, typically to publications like Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly, as well as some specialty magazines like Roundup. We rely heavily on our authors to self-promote. We encourage our authors to provide us with lists of potential reviewers, and are happy to do whatever we can to assist them in things like writing contests, book signings, etc. We also encourage our authors to set up Web sites and blogs, and to make things like bookmarks and other inexpensive giveaway items as a way of promoting their book(s). I also think it’s really important for writers to attend as many conferences as they can. Conferences are a great opportunity to mix and mingle with other writers, pick their brains, and find out what types of things they do to promote their books.

Our own Hot Tamale, Sandy Elzie, has a book due out in October with Avalon. Can you give us an idea about what caught your eye on her manuscript?

Sandy’s book is just wonderful! The thing that really caught my eye was the unique pairing of a tutor with a British ambassador, which seems like it would lend itself to an historical, but she wrote a phenomenal contemporary. I really love that Trenton and Kelsey are British—it’s fun to imagine them speaking with accents! I also appreciate Sandy’s ability to create tension between the characters. Not only are there external factors trying to keep the two apart, but their vastly different backgrounds (Natalie comes from a pretty poor family, and was raised in a very rural area, whereas Trenton comes from a wealthy, city-based family) as well as their standings as employee/employer work well to increase tension. The cast of supporting characters was also a great point of interest. Sandy has created an entirely believable and compelling story, and has done an excellent job of inventing relatable characters who quickly engage the reader. I can’t wait for it to publish!

What else would you like us to know about yourself and Avalon?

Hmm, I accept bribes in the form of chocolate and cash. Joking, joking! I guess I want people to know that I understand how much time and hard work goes into your writing, and to never give up. Breaking into publishing can be an excruciating process, but it is well worth it. Keep putting yourself out there, whether it’s submitting material to publishers, joining a writers’ group, or starting a blog—it’s all making a difference. Try to get in touch with other writers to discuss ideas, strategies, etc. and just keep writing!

Also, while Avalon is a small company, our dream is big! We are proud of who we are and what we do, and we strive to make the best books we possibly can. We encourage and support all writers with a story to tell, and hope to have the pleasure of reading your work!

Chelsea, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to blog with us today. Readers, I know you probably have more questions than got asked here, so ask away! TWO lucky commenters will receive an Avalon book today. The first will receive a wonderful contemporary romance by Holly Jacobs, Everything But a Wedding, pictured at the top of this blog entry.

The second winner will receive a great historical romance by deann smallwood, Montana Star
.

Thanks so much to Chelsea and Avalon for donating these two great reads. So leave your comments and questions below. And, just in case you think of questions later, dear readers, you can go to www.avalonbooks.com for everything including submission requirements.

26 comments:

Debbie Kaufman said...

Morning Chelsea:
Again, thanks for blogging with us today. We're happy to have you with us. Oh, and just for everyone's information, for Chelsea's giveaway, myself and all our Petit Four bloggers are not a part of the drawing.
Chelsea, you're going to make two readers very happy today. And, who knows, maybe we'll send the next great Avalon writer your way! I'm crossing my fingers :)

Sandra Elzie said...

Good morning Chelsea!

We meet again and, as always, it's a pleasure.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your obviously busy schedule to guest blog with us today.

For our readers, when they go out to Avalon's site, it indicates that you publish romance and career romance. Would you tell them what a "career" romance is?

I'm wondering how you landed such a wonderful job that you get paid to read books. Other than writing books, I can't imagine a better job...even though since helping to judge a recent writing contest,I KNOW that some submissions are more fun to read than others.

Thanks again for taking time to share with us today and I look forward to hearing from you again soon. :O)

Sandy

Marilyn Baron said...

Thank you so much for being a guest blogger. The interview was very informative. I really enjoyed learning about the Avalon family and I love the cover art for the two books featured today. It's obvious you do a wonderful job for your writers.

Marilyn Baron

Maxine Davis said...

Thank you for blogging with us. You really had some great information for published and unpublished writers.

New York sounds like an exciting place; hope you can visit Georgia one day.

Susan May said...

Chelsea,
Thanks for being our guest today, You really make Avalon sound like a great publisher to work for and with.

Joyce J. said...

As someone who works in a public library, I can verify the increased use and (alas) the decreased budget. You mentioned non-traditional settings and I've noticed an increase in fiction about women in different cultures which I've enjoyed reading immensely. You enjoy the book plus learn. It sounds like you work an 80 hour week! Thanks for sharing,
Joyce

Chelsea Gilmore said...

Thank you all for your kind words! I feel very honored to be participating in this blog, and every time I look at the name, I give a little "squee" of delight!

To answer Sandy's question about "career romances," this is actually something we're not super big on these days. Clearly we need to update our website! :o)

Career romances were really popular in the 70s and 80s. They featured independent career women who were attempting to juggle their professional lives with their personal lives. Because the dynamic has changed quite a bit, and it's not at all unusual for women to have demanding careers, this sub-genre has sort of faded, or maybe melded is a better word, into your typical contemporary romance. The bulk of our heroines are very "modern" in the sense that they work, have families, hobbies, etc. and still manage to squeeze in time for romance.

Chelsea Gilmore said...

Oh, and to answer Sandy's other question about how I managed to land a job getting paid to read...some days I have to pinch myself because I can't believe that I get paid to do something I love so much!

I think I'm just very fortunate and lucky to have landed at such a wonderful company. The fact that I get to read books I enjoy, and work with a phenomenal group of people is just the icing on an already very sweet cake!

Carol Burnside said...

Great information here, Chelsea. Thanks for visiting with us at PFHT.

I love the story about the woman at the birthday party and your warm cheeks. Funny! (though I'm sure it didn't seem so at the time).

Thanks also for clearing that bit up about the career romances. I'd read that in your guidelines before and wondered about it.

Your enthusiasm for Sandy's book is terrific. We're all very excited to read it.

K.L.J. said...

Thanks for the post, Chelsea. I just learned about this blog at my first GRW meeting and I love it. It's so nice to hear that editors are real people who really like books - I would love to shadow you at work one day.

Since you read for a living, do you still read for fun? If so, what are some of your favorite reads?

Thanks, PF&HT, for such a great blog!

Chiron said...

Hello Chelsea!
Wonderful interview! I appreciate knowing in more detail exactly what Avalon acquires. Like Carol, the story of the woman at the party made me laugh. Sounded like a great SNL skit!

I do have a question for you. In regards to "sweet" romances (no sex), is this specific to the actual act or does it also include innuendo? If a story closes the bedroom door but alludes to the deed, so to speak, is that still considered sweet? A GP rated movie, for example, would have innuendo but no actual sex.

These days it seems most romance outlets demand 'spicy' while I prefer to write and to read books that are quirky, fun, and real but not necessarily graphic.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insights!

Smiles,
Chiron O'Keefe
www.chironokeefe.blogspot.com

Chelsea Gilmore said...

To K.L.J.: I read sooo much for fun! My boyfriend is baffled by my desire to constantly read, despite having spent the bulk of my day reading manuscripts at work. I read a pretty wide variety of books. I love everything from John Irving to Jodi Piccoult. Right now I'm reading Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, which is fantastic. I go through periods where I'll only want to read really light, fluffy fun stuff, and then I'll take a break and read more non-fiction, serious stuff. To be honest, I'll read just about anything I can get my hands on!

If you make it up to New York, I would absolutely love to have you into the office to see how everything works!

Chelsea Gilmore said...

Hello, Chiron!

Thank you so much! This is actually a really great question. We avoid the implication of sex in any form. So, in other words, if we see our couple going into a bedroom and closing the door, we can pretty much guess that they're about to "do the deed," which is still a no-no for Avalon.

It's a rather fine line, and I often find it difficult to explain. However, should you ever want to throw some scenarios at me, I'd certainly be happy to tell you what flies and what doesn't. It's something that's often easier to handle on a case by case scenario. And, to be honest, we're never going to reject a manuscript just because it has a sex scene--if we like the story, we'll simply work around it by either editing it out entirely, or toning it down enough for our guidelines.

One/Six Photography said...

Chelsea,
I am a reader, not a writer, but I enjoyed your guest blog a lot! Avalon sounds like such a great, wholesome, family oriented publishing company, and we need more of those! I will definitely be looking for Avalon books! Thank you for sharing!

Emma Lai said...

Very informative interview ladies! Avalon sounds like a very nice company to work for, Chelsea, and who wouldn't love a position where reading was a large part of the job description?

Chelsea Gilmore said...

Thank you all so much for your kind words and insightful comments and questions. This has been an absolute pleasure for me, and I look forward to hearing from you.

(I will check back on the comments tomorrow in case anyone has anything else they'd like my feedback on.)

I'd also like to extend an open invitation to all of you to feel free to contact me directly if you've got any questions or concerns, or would just like some more info about publishing and/or writing.

Thanks again for asking me to participate in your super fun blog!

I can be reached at: cgilmore@avalonbooks.com OR (212) 598-0222.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tami Brothers said...

Wow!!! I loved this post. I learned quite a bit that I didn't know about Avalon and it definitely sounds like a great company to work with.

Thank you so much for bloggin with us today. We honestly appreciate the time you took from your very busy schedule. I love that you gave us a look at some of the things you do.

Have a great weekend!!!

Tami Brothers

Linsey Lanier said...

Chelsea, thanks for visting with us today at PFHT. I'm glad you like our name :)

Thanks for answering these questions about Avalon. You've addressed some issues I've wondered about for a long time.

By the way, I'm also a sucker for 80's music.

Linsey

Chiron said...

Chelsea,

Thanks for much for your response. It's been wonderful reading through all the comments!

I also very much appreciate the offer to follow-up with more information when needed.

Hope you have a lovely weekend!!

Smiles,
Chiron O'Keefe
www.chironokeefe.blogspot.com

dusty takle said...

Chelsea, thank you for post! Learned a lot about Avalon and would love to learn more! Blessings to you!

Berta Platas said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview, Chelsea! I'm so pleased to learn what Avalon's guidelines are. It seems these days I have to hide a lot of my romance novels so that my daughter doesn't see them, but yours are definitely "family friendly." I'll find some titles and ask for them at the library.

babs m said...

Wow! What a close-packed font of information! Thank you so much for telling it like it is. I have a romance kicking around that I have a much better idea how to pitch now. :) Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Bobjo says, enter me.

Chelsea Gilmore said...

Thank you all again for everything. This was fun from start to finish!

Congratulations to the big winners, Babs M. and Bobjo! I hope you enjoy the books. I'll give you a little inside scoop...we have another book from DeAnn Smallwood, entitled "Sapphire Blue," that's due out in a few months, so if you enjoy "Montana Star," you should definitely check out her latest. Also, Holly Jacobs has written an absolutely fantastic new book for her "Everything But..." series, called "Everything But a Christmas Eve," that will be out in December. Be sure to look for them both!

I wish you all the very best. Keep reading and writing, and don't be shy about getting in touch. I'd love to hear from you all!

Dianna Love said...

A belated hello Chelsea - I'm in Jacksonville, Fl with Mary Buckham teaching a one day retreat. What a wonderful interview. We are all so thrilled that Sandie is with you - she's a terrific writer.

Sorry this was a little late, group. We haven't been online, but a big hi from both of us.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Dianna,

Better late than never!!! Hope you are enjoying Florida. Have a safe trip.

Tami